Netflix show depicts local murder
‘Mindhunter’ episodes focus on Shade killing, psychological profiling in 1979 case
In early June 1979, Logan Township patrol officers Steven D. Jackson and Walter Coho were dispatched to Skyline Drive at the top of Wopsononock Mountain because a jogger thought he saw a body.
The officers met the man at the Buckhorn Inn, and he directed them to a makeshift dump where people would throw their trash and yard waste.
Jackson, then 29, remembers viewing the scene and in his initial shock exclaiming, “Are we really seeing what we are seeing?”
The officers had discovered a badly mutilated 22-year-old woman named Betty Jean Shade.
“The thing I thought when I saw her: If she was a sister or a member of your family, you wouldn’t recognize her,” said Jackson, who eventually served as Logan Township police chief and is now a magisterial district judge in Blair County.
Shade’s murder and her killer, who turned out to be her boyfriend, Charles F. Soult, 26, of Altoona, is fictionally depicted in a 10-episode Netflix show “Mindhunter,” which began airing Oct. 13.
The Shade murder was unusual and among the first cases for which a psychological profile was developed by John Douglas, an FBI agent credited in the development of that science.
The Altoona portion of the series, which has generated a great deal of comment locally, begins with episode 4 and continues through episodes 5 and 6.
Former Altoona Police Chief Ron Heller, who was a young patrol officer at the time of the murder, said the presentation about the homicide, which occurred in Logan Township, blurs the real facts about what occurred.
For instance, the chief investigator of the Shade murder in the show is an Altoona patrol officer who seems unsure of how to handle such a brutal murder.
In reality, the homicide investigation was led by the late Detective Howard Horton of Logan Township, who was assisted by a team of experienced state police investigators that included Robert Long, Edward G. Pottmeyer and Barry Bidelspach.
Pottmeyer and Bidelspach were the lead investigators who just a couple of years prior to the Shade murder tracked down serial killer Jeffrey Daugherty and, using a unique strategy, got Daugherty to admit to seven murders, two in the Altoona area, one in Virginia, three in Florida and one in Texas.
Daugherty was eventually put to death in Florida — after being convicted of four robberies and two murders in the Altoona area — the day before the execution of a much more famous serial killer, Ted Bundy.
Heller also pointed out the “Mindhunter” episodes use aliases, with Betty Jean called Beverly and Charles renamed Benjamin.
Scenes not shot locally
The episodes were not shot in Altoona but in Pittsburgh and Kittanning, confirmed Dennis Page, an extra during the filming. He said he was a “gawking neighbor” in one of the scenes.
Ironically, Page, 64, was a classmate of Charles Soult at Altoona Area High School, but he said he didn’t personally know him, pointing out the class had about 1,100 graduates.
Page said the purpose of the various episodes was to focus on the history of criminal profiling.
The “Mindhunter” series was created and largely written by Joe Penhall, a playwright and screen writer, who wrote the script for the 2009 film, “The Road,” which was filmed on a stretch of the abandoned turnpike near Breezewood.
Others involved in “Mindhunter” include famed director David Fincher and actress Charlize Theron, who won an Academy Award for her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003’s movie “Monster.”
Fincher and Theron are the executive producers of “Mindhunter.”
In a recent interview with Fincher on the Empire Film Podcast, he explained why in the depiction of brutal crimes, facts and names are often altered.
“I’m sure there are still people who are terrorized about what happened,” Fincher said.
They likely wouldn’t have “appreciated being rolled into our story and so we changed the names of the victims.”
Altering details, Fincher said, was a decision made by himself and the show’s creator.
“I can’t be beholden to the facts,” Fincher said on the podcast.
Murder difficult to solve
In the days after Shade’s body was found, the young murder victim was described by friends as “a very sweet, innocent girl,” who was “very quiet and polite.” The 1974 graduate of Altoona Area High School earned money by baby-sitting for a city family.
She read romance novels and loved to sew, to embroider items and to give them as gifts.
The night she was murdered, believed to be late on May 29, 1979, she had just completed her daily baby-sitting duties, and carrying her knitting and some clothes, she was picked up by her boyfriend and alleged fiance, Charles Soult, who worked for a local waste hauling company; his sister, Cathy, who was a good friend of Shade’s; and their brother, Michael.
What occurred after Shade got into Cathy’s car was the subject of a murder trial in 1981 in which Charles Soult was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, on recommendation of a jury.
Soult’s attorney, Norman D. Callan, an assistant Blair County public defender, fought successfully for the dismissal of the death penalty, arguing that one of the aggravating circumstances used by the jury in recommending death — torture — was improper because the multitude of injuries that so shocked the police officers occurred after death.
The defendant was resentenced by former Blair County Judge R. Bruce Brumbaugh to life for first-degree murder, plus two to four years for abuse of a corpse.
What made the death of Betty Jean Shade so different was the violence to her body, and in an effort to determine who killed her, investigators, through the aid of former FBI Agent Dale Frye, who served the Altoona area, turned to the fledgling FBI effort at its Quantico, Va., facility, which was attempting to perfect psychological profiling.
The effort was led by the FBI’s Investigative Support Unit and its founder Douglas.
Douglas had studied habits of and interviewed some of the nation’s most violent and notorious killers like Ted Bundy, James Earl Ray and John Wayne Gacey.
He was attempting to develop a way to profile killers as an aid to investigators.
Although Logan Township and state police were focused on Charles, Michael and Cathy, they could not come up with evidence needed for an arrest.
Blair County District Attorney Thomas Peoples refused to authorize a prosecution, and when Peoples became a judge in the Blair County Court of Common Pleas, the case was passed to new DA Oliver “Skip” Mattas.
Mattas remembers the day he took the oath as DA and returned to his office. He found Horton, Long and Logan Township Police Chief John Reeder waiting. They unanimously wanted to utilize criminal profiling to obtain a clearer picture of who would have committed such a horrible crime.
Mattas and the three investigators spent a week at the FBI headquarters in Quantico studying criminal profiling.
Findings of profile
The profile of Shade’s killer indicated he was a white male between 17 and 25 and that he would be thin or wiry. The killer would be a loner, “not exactly a whiz kid in high school, introverted, probably into pornography.”
He would have come from a dysfunctional family with an absent father and a domineering, overly protective mother.
The killer, the profile indicated, knew Shade well, this coming from facts uncovered at the crime scene.
There were many other pieces to the profile. A particularly helpful one was that the killer would return to the scene and would visit the victim’s grave.
Both Jackson and Heller remembered Charles Soult and his sister coming to the illegal dump site, allegedly looking for Charles’ girlfriend, who was missing for a couple of days and had not shown up at her baby-sitting job the day before.
Heller had been called to the site with his police dog, Anthony, to track possible clues. Why, he asked, would somebody be searching on the top of Wopsononock Mountain for a missing girlfriend?
Mattas said Charles Soult eventually became the prime suspect. Not only did he fit the profile, but Mattas said a copy of the book “Helter Skelter,” the story of the Charles Manson murders, was found on a nightstand in the Fourth Street apartment shared by Soult and Shade.
Police were also searching for a “death book” or a series of clippings of Shade’s murder. The profile predicted the killer would maintain a “diary” of the killing.
Profiling, Mattas said, can point investigators to a suspect, but that doesn’t get the case into court, and that was the problem facing the DA and the police. They needed a confession.
Heller said that the Soults were placed under full-time surveillance.
If they drove some place, there was a police car behind them. If they walked somewhere, the police were evident.
The surveillance officers did not interfere with Soults’ activities, but they let them know they were there.
Charles never did confess, but both Michael and Cathy eventually came forward.
Michael did not testify during Charles’ weeklong trial because he was ruled incompetent, but Cathy testified that she, Michael and Charles picked up Betty after her baby-sitting job.
Charles was upset because Betty was going to leave him.
The group drove to an area off Wopsononock Mountain Road near an old railroad bed where the killing occurred. Cathy described how she wrestled with Charles, attempting to take away a knife.
What she saw made her sick, she said.
Days later, Charles wanted to return to the scene and remove the body. It was then taken to the dump site.
As his sister testified, Charles began to sob in the courtroom.
Mattas said he believes the brother and sister did not participate in Betty’s murder, and they didn’t face the ultimate charge of first-degree murder. He said that detectives Long and Horton put an awful lot of work into the case.
“The whole thing was horrible. … It was quite a case, quite a story,” he said.
He said investigators never could figure out why Betty and Charles were a couple in the first place.
“She had a wonderful, wonderful reputation,” he said.
She was the type who would pick up a wounded bird on the street and try to bring it back to health. Maybe that was the nub of their relationship, he speculated.
According to the Pennsylvania Inmate Locator, Charles, now 64, is housed at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon.
Mirror Reporters Sean Sauro, Ryan Brown and Russell O’Reilly contributed to this article.